Who are refugees?

Refugees are ordinary people who have undergone extraordinary circumstances.  War, persecution, and oppression have forced them to leave behind their homes and families to travel to another country for safety and shelter.  

They come from places like Bosnia or Burma, Somalia or Sudan, Cuba or Iraq.  They can be young or old, with large families or all alone, educated or illiterate.  They may have been farmers; they may have been doctors.  What they all have in common is that they arrive to a new country like the United States with very little of their own but the chance to start over again after having escaped years of fear and persecution.

Imagine being dropped in a place where you don't speak the language, understand the culture, or have the network of resources or respect that you once held before.  For some refugees, life in the US may be the first time they've had to deal with the idea of paying bills or working for money.  Others may be former professionals now forced to take on low-level janitorial and factory jobs.  Not only do refugees have to adjust to a new place and a new language, they must quickly adapt to a whole new way of life.

Agencies like World Relief are in a position to help.  The US government assigns us to offer orientation and practical aid to help refugee families in this time of transition.  Volunteers play a role in this process as they offer daily interaction, friendship and encouragement.  Despite its value, however, this help can only be offered for a limited time and refugees must quickly begin to make a way of their own both socially and financially despite the unfamiliarity of their surroundings. The reality will always be that their lives and circumstance are now different and they must often struggle to adapt to the changes. 

Fortunately, the story does not end there.  I have seen many families take those very circumstances and make them a strength.  For perhaps the first time in years, these individuals have the opportunity and peace of mind to succeed.  The strength and courage that carried them through their most difficult experiences show in their work and eager progress.  They often take hold of the "American Dream" to better their lives for themselves and their families and yet maintain ties to their homes and traditions which enrich our community as a whole.

Refugees may be your friends, your neighbors, your co-workers, or the new strangers in town.  They are probably people who are learning and adapting to a new life, but they are also people who have much to offer as well.

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